5 Ways to Teach Students Respectful Disagreement

Disagreement is something that is bound to occur when you have a variety of people together. In classroom and school settings, disagreement is commonplace due to the differing views and opinions that everybody holds. In circumstances where you disagree with someone, the interaction doesn’t have to end up in an unpleasant shouting match or fight. Instead, students can be taught how to respectfully disagree with their peers.

Here are five ways to teach students respectful disagreement.

1. Be able to identify logical fallacies

Logical fallacies are tricky little potholes which can be found almost anywhere. Teach students how to spot them effectively so that they don’t get caught in the trap of making them.

2. Know respectful language

It is very important for students to know respectful language in the context of a disagreement. Oftentimes, people can get very defensive about their views and opinions. It is therefore advisable for students to learn language that can help diffuse the situation without offending anyone.

3. Lead by example

One of the most effective ways to teach students how to respectfully disagree is by teaching them through example. As a teacher, you will be faced with situations when other students or faculty members will disagree with you. Set a positive example on how to handle situations where you may not necessarily agree with the other person.

4. Encourage empathy

Being empathetic to others is one of the most effective ways to avoid unpleasant disagreements. Actively encourage students to put themselves in their peers’ shoes.

5. Be equipped with knowledge

In some disagreements, the best way to tackle the problem is to present logical facts and information. Encourage students to know the facts before getting into an argument.

What do you think is the best way to foster respectful disagreement?

Disagreements are a normal and very common part of interacting with other people. The key is learning how to disagree in a respectful and constructive manner. We decided to ask a variety of people their opinions on the matter. This is what they had to say:

Heidi Hecht

Debate clubs are good things: All schools should form a debate club if they haven't already and kids should join an age-appropriate and skill level-appropriate debate club so that they can learn about the rules of good debating. (You don't win an argument by calling names or by saying, Well, my friend / teacher / parent / random authority figure said..., etc.)

Anita Perry

I have been able to teach children as young as five how to disagree. Unfortunately, in this day and age this needs to be a taught skill as most children come to school already entrenched in bad habits.

Here is what has worked for me:

• During circle or sharing time, every student is taught that when one person is talking, everyone else is listening. There are consequences for speaking out of turn and interrupting.

• There is an agreed upon signal when the teacher wants responses and a student wants to speak. This can be the traditional hand raising or a non-traditional hand on head, thumbs up, passing of a talking stick, etc.

• Children are coached to practice respectful responses and are encouraged to add their opinion, i.e., I do not like that movie, but I do like.. I do not like that play ground because the equipment is broken.

• Children are taught that ideas do not have feelings but people do. It is OK to question an idea but not OK to make anyone feel badly because of their idea.

AJ Saleem

The best way to teach students respectful disagreement is to show the value of debate. I often organize class debates where the students' goal is to bounce their ideas off their opponents.

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